Thursday, May 17, 2012

Proposal for Campaign Finance Reform of New York State's Laws

This proposal by Andrew Cuomo touches on some important aspects of campaign finance reform: public subsidies, all candidates access to debates, limit soft money through loopholes, reduce campaign expenditure limits to reasonable level, improve transparency of electoral finances, tighten loop holes for corporate contributions, increase penalties for violation of election law, ban fund raising during the operation of the Legislature, and ban use of personal funds in campaigns.

In addition, the FDA recommends a ban corporations and trade unions from making contributions and third party spending, and set contribution and expenditure limits at levels reasonably attainable by all candidates.


Proposed Solution on Campaign Finance

Campaign Finance
Proposal: Campaign Platform: Reform New York State's Campaign Finance Laws
Source of Proposal: Andrew Cuomo
Summary of Proposal:

We must restore honor and integrity to government, with tough new ethics standards, expanded disclosure requirements, independent investigators to root out and punish corruption, and an overhaul of campaign finance laws. We must remove legislative redistricting from partisan elected politicians and place it in the hands of an independent commission that works only for the people. And we must hold a constitutional convention -- A People’s Convention – to rewrite the Constitution and make these changes immediately because we cannot wait any longer for the state legislature to act.

Reform New York State’s Campaign Finance Laws

In order to restore trust and accountability in government, we must reform the very foundation of democracy — the ballot box.  Therefore, we must change our antiquated campaign finance laws. Our current laws amplify the voices of wealthy individuals and special interests and entrench incumbents at the public’s expense.

Individuals can now contribute up to $55,900 to candidates for statewide office. Corporations that are barred from donating one penny to federal candidates may donate directly to state candidates and use subsidiaries and LLCs to avoid New York’s limits. Unlike federal law, New York allows unlimited “soft money” contributions to party “housekeeping” accounts by individuals and corporations, and leaves unrestricted transfers between PACs and parties and candidates.  In addition, unlike New York City’s campaign public financing system that has expanded the diversity of candidates and enhanced the voices of small donors, New York fails to provide voluntary public financing of any kind. Moreover, elected officials can use campaign funds for personal expenses that are unrelated to their campaign costs.

In short, the State’s campaign finance laws fail to prevent the dominance of wealthy contributors and special interests in our government and force our representatives to be more concerned with how their contributors will react to a particular policy than with whether that policy is the right thing to do.

Therefore, as Governor, Andrew Cuomo will work to fundamentally reform our system of financing elections that achieves three core goals: transparency, integrity, and participation. Such a system must include public funding of elections. Coupled with redistricting reform (discussed below) this will truly yield meaningful improvement of our system. However, until such fundamental reforms are in place, the alternative is to lower contribution limits, close loopholes in the campaign finance law and allow for more enforcement of New York’s campaign finance law.

Institute a Voluntary System of Public Funding of Election Campaigns

Fundamental campaign finance reform must include a system of public funding of elections. Like New York City, New York State needs a system of public campaign financing to allow limits on campaign spending and to increase participation by qualified candidates who lack the means or connections to raise significant campaign funds. Candidates should also be required to agree to participate in debates in order to receive public financing.

Limit Soft Money

We must take necessary steps to achieve transparency by limiting soft money donations. Unlike federal law, New York State allows donations of an unlimited amount to party “housekeeping” accounts. The housekeeping loophole allows individuals and corporations to contribute unlimited funds to a political party. Political parties’ housekeeping accounts should no longer be exempted from contribution limits and, as discussed below, those limits should be lowered significantly.

Reduce Sky-High Campaign Contribution Limits

Individuals in New York are permitted to contribute up to $94,200 annually to political parties and a total of $55,900 to the primary and general election campaigns of statewide candidates, $15,500 to state senate candidates, and $7,600 to assembly candidates. New York must limit the amount that candidates can raise in primary and general elections. Together, with a system of public financing, these reforms will dramatically expand the talent pool for our elected offices, increase competition, and reduce the impact of particular donors on an elected representative’s policy agenda.

Close Corporate Subsidiary and LLC Loopholes

We must close loopholes that make meaningful campaign finance reform difficult. To that end, donations from corporate subsidiaries and related limited liability companies should be counted as donations from the affiliated parent company so that the limit for corporations of $5,000 per year is meaningful.


Tighten Inadequate Reporting Requirements

Contributors in New York should be required to reveal their occupations and the names of their employers, like they are required to do under federal law.


Restrict Fundraisers during Legislative Session and Prohibit Personal Use of Campaign Funds

Albany-area fundraisers and lobbyist campaign contributions should be restricted during the legislative session and timely disclosure of contributions made during session required.

Moreover, campaign contributions should not be used for personal expenditures. New York’s vague prohibition on the use of campaign funds for personal expenditures has resulted in their use for such noncampaign related expenses as country club memberships, purchases of television sets and personal wardrobe items. Permissible and nonpermissible uses of campaign funds must be clarified, and non-campaign related, personal uses of any kind prohibited and enforced.


Improve Enforcement of Campaign Finance laws

The New York State Board of Elections (“Board”) is limited by law in its ability to investigate and punish election law scofflaws. The Board’s Campaign Finance Unit is a bottleneck for all potential civil or criminal enforcement proceedings because it must review and refer a potential violation to the Board’s Enforcement Counsel Unit or to the district attorney’s office prior to any action being taken. In turn, the three-person Enforcement Counsel Unit can bring a court proceeding, but it has neither sufficient resources nor any requirement that it do so even in cases where a violation has been shown. Moreover, the civil penalties for violations of campaign finance laws are minimal or, in many cases, non-existent.

Accordingly, reforms must include (1) granting the Attorney General full concurrent jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute civil and criminal violations of the laws; (2) authorizing the Enforcement Counsel Unit to act without referral from the Campaign Finance Unit and prohibiting the Board itself from overruling the Enforcement Counsel Unit’s decision whether to investigate an alleged violation; (3) requiring the Board of Elections to publish the names and entities found to have violated campaign finance laws, as the New York City Campaign Finance Board is required to do; and (4) significantly increasing the penalties for violations of campaign finance laws across the board.

2012 FDA Canadian Provinces Electoral Finance Study

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